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The current outbreak, which began in October 2017 off southwest Florida, has been tied to a record 589 sea turtle deaths and 213 manatee deaths, the Herald-Tribune reported, citing figures from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
By Daniel R. Petrolia and William C. Walton
For Cainnon Gregg, 2018 started out as a great year. After leaving his job as an installation artist to become a full-time oyster farmer in Wakulla County, Florida in 2017, Gregg began raising small oysters in baskets or bags suspended in the shallow, productive coastal waters of Apalachicola Bay.
Raising oysters "off-bottom" this way takes a lot of time and money, but has a big potential payoff. They are destined for the high-end raw bar market, where offerings are denoted by specific appellations, like "Salty Birds" (Cainnon's oysters), "Navy Coves" (from Alabama) and "Murder Points" (also from Alabama), and can retail for twice the price of oysters harvested from traditional on-bottom reefs.
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The same red tide choking Florida's Gulf coast has spread to waters off Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, forcing the closure of many popular beaches on Thursday and leaving hundreds of dead fish in its wake, according to local reports.
This is the first time in decades the toxic algae has affected both of Florida's coasts at the same time, the Associated Press reported.
2018 has not been a good year for Florida's iconic manatees. A total of 540 sea cows have died in the last eight months, surpassing last year's total of 538 deaths, according to figures posted Monday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The figure will likely climb higher before the year's end amid the state's ongoing toxic algae crisis. The red tide in the state's southwest is the known or suspected cause of death for 97 manatees as of Aug. 12, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission recently reported.
The algae outbreak started nine months ago and has become the state's longest on record since 2006. The red tide has killed scores of marine life, including countless crabs, eels and fish, as well as dozens of manatees, hundreds of endangered sea turtles, potentially a whale shark and 11 bottlenose dolphins.
Between 300 to 400 dead sea turtles were found floating seven nautical miles off the Jiquilisco Bay Biosphere Reserve in El Salvador, the country's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) tweeted yesterday.
The majority of the creatures were already decomposing when they were found, the ministry said. The species was not revealed.